Computer underground Digest Sun Sep 26 1993 Volume 5 : Issue 75
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET)
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Copie Editor: Etaoin Shrdlu, III
CONTENTS, #5.75 (Sep 26 1993)
File 1--THE ANARCHISTS AMONGST US: Is PBS One of *THEM?*
File 2--Elansky/Hartford BBS Update, 25 Sept '93
File 3--Raising the Issue of Copyright on the Nets
File 4--Ethics of reposting
File 5--Number of CuD Articles
File 6--CuD Posting Policies and Processes (A Response)
File 7--September 29 BBLISA meeting]
File 8--The State of Security of Cyberspace (SRI Research Summary)
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COMPUTER UNDERGROUND DIGEST is an open forum dedicated to sharing
information among computerists and to the presentation and debate of
diverse views. CuD material may be reprinted for non-profit as long
as the source is cited. Authors hold a presumptive copyright, and
they should be contacted for reprint permission. It is assumed that
non-personal mail to the moderators may be reprinted unless otherwise
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preferred to short responses. Please avoid quoting previous posts
unless absolutely necessary.
DISCLAIMER: The views represented herein do not necessarily represent
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Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1993 14:18:00 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: File 1--THE ANARCHISTS AMONGST US: Is PBS One of *THEM?*
Since, as far as anyone can tell, the crux of the Elansky case lies in
the "anarchy" file found on his BBS, the following information may be
of interest to the West Hartford prosecutor and judge in the case, and
may be of special interest to Elansky's defense lawyer.
Last week, on Sept. 15, to be exact, the local PBS outlet here in
Philadelphia showed a program called "Your Toxic Trash", narrated by
Ed Begley, Jr, and produced by station KERA of Dallas/Ft. Worth. The
theme of this program was how much of our trash is composed of
dangerous chemicals and how we should properly dispose of them. To
demonstrate how dangerous the accidental combination of substances
could be, the producers had a Professor of Chemistry at U.C. Berkeley,
Prof. William Lester, show what happens when you mix powdered pool
chlorine and brake fluid. The combination resulted in an immediate and
intense flame which reduced the pool chlorine to a charred black lump
in seconds. He also showed that when pool chlorine is mixed with an
ordinary soda, like Coca-Cola, free chlorine is released in great
As I sat watching this, it occurred to me that anyone with an interest
in setting fire to things, or in poisoning people had just been given
the necessary information to do either or both. And this was done by
highly reputable people working for equally reputable organizations.
Therefore, if the law in West Hartford thinks that such information as
was found on Elansky's board is dangerous and should never be publicly
disseminated, what in the world are they going to make of "Your Toxic
Trash"? More important, this perfectly makes the point that whatever
was in the file is public knowledge, easily obtainable, in some cases,
from as unexpected a source as Public Television
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 93 15:58:21 CDT
From: CuD Moderators
Subject: File 2--Elansky/Hartford BBS Update, 25 Sept '93
There is little change on the status of Michael Elansky, the sysop of
a Hartford BBS arrested in August because of the contents of two
"Anarchy files" on his system (See CuD 5.69, 5.71). We are told that
nothing of substance occurred at his hearing on Thursday, Sept. 24:
1) As of Friday, Sept. 25, Elansky remained in jail, unable to
post $500,000 bond.
2) The hearing was postponed until early October
3) We have been told, but have NOT YET confirmed, that no motions
were filed by the defense at the hearing. This, we are told,
includes no motions for bail reduction.
In short, Elansky seems to be languishing in jail and little seems to
be done about. The case gets odder and odder.....
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 93 14:19:16 EDT
From: gray@ANTAIRE.COM(Gray Watson)
Subject: File 3--Raising the Issue of Copyright on the Nets
In CuD #5.70, File 2 ("Big time hacker from the small town"),
an article began:
>"POLICE NAB OBSCENE CALLER" by Bill Latimer (reprinted without asking)
I don't think CUD should have allowed this. I send out a standard
message when I see such posts and it is applicable here:
>For your information, including a significant amount of text
>from copyright publications in posts is a breach of
>copyright law. The publishing industry will *never* adopt
>digital distribution if the net does not honor the copyright
>If possible in the future, please try to contact the author
>and ask for a limited release of the document. If this is
>not unavailable, please consider posting a summary of the
If the legalities of an electronic issue are ill-defined then we must
look to the physical world as our guide. No publication, commercial,
non-profit, nor educational, republishes copyrighted works without
first gaining permission.
I believe that if we in cyberspace are ever going to achieve the same
rights as physical publishers, broadcasters, and speakers, we must
consider our electronic actions to actually _be_ the same as their
physical equivalents -- in terms of the legalities. If we don't think
twice about duplicated works that are copyrighted, then we are asking
for special treatment -- and with the obvious benefits come serious
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1993 23:39:05 CDT
From: Eric Schnoebelen
Subject: File 4--Ethics of reposting
CuD #5.61, file 11, contained a message by William Reeder of Sun
Microsystems which was in reply to a message of mine, describing a
successful breaking and entering of the Sun internal network.
These messages were originally posted to a private list for system
managers in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, with the expectation of
confidentiality. Neither William Reeder or myself were consulted
before the message was sent to CuD by a third party.
Mr Reeder's message was posted in response to a comment of mine about
the happenings with texsun, a major UUCP hub in the Dallas/Ft Worth
region. texsun was/is operated by the SUN Central region as a
community service. The message was not intended to be distributed
outside the scope of the list. It was certainly not intended for
This reposting does bring to the foreground the ethics and issues of
reposting messages. I believe, and many on the list in question do as
well, that the list was private, or semi-private at worst, and that
the information on it is generally considered confidential. Most also
believe it was impolite to repost the message to another list, or
any other forum with out the consent of the author(s), William Reeder
and myself in this case.
The expectation of privacy on mailing lists is another issue that
arises from this. There are several forms of mailing lists on the
internet today. There are lists that can be joined by invitation
only, usually sponsored by an existing list member.
There are lists that are can only be joined by folks meeting a certain
set of criteria, such as being a female computer
scientist/researcher/developer, or being gay/bisexual.
There are lists which are well known in an (geographic or technical)
area, but are not well know out side of that area. Prospective new
list members are usually told about the list by current members, but
it up to the new folks to actually do something about subscribing.
Lists like this are frequently used for discussion and dissemination of
information amongst system managers, etc.
Then there are lists that are well know, and there are no restrictions
on membership. CuD is an example of such a list.
And beyond that, there are USENET newsgroups.
Of course, there are other types of lists as well.
The last two types, wide open lists, and USENET groups are pretty much
broadcast mediums, with corresponding expectations upon readership and
The first three types of lists have a higher expectation of privacy
and confidentiality. People on these lists believe that what they say
will not be taken out of context, where perhaps it may cause problems
for the poster, or others. Reposting something from such a list,
without permission of the original poster is somewhat analogous to
submitting a personal letter from a third party to a news paper for
publication in the letters to the editor column.
It boils down to this: Just because something is easy to
re-distribute does not mean that it is ethical to do so. If we of
cyberspace cannot handle this responsibility with our own intellectual
property, it will be impossible to convince (non-cyber) institutions
that we can respect their copyrights and other intellectual property.
Another issue is that of copyright violation. Since the United States
adopted the Bern Convention Copyright Treaty in 1986 (I believe),
everything written is copyrighted from the moment it looks like text.
(aka, this message is implicitly copyright, 1993, Eric Schnoebelen)
Most of the rest of the developed nations have been a signer of the
Bern Convention longer than the US, so the same rules apply.
Solutions? Courtesy. Before reposting anything, it is polite to ask
the original author(s) if reposting is acceptable. The original author
may wish that his words not be redistributed, or at least may wish the
chance to edit them.
Date: Sun, 5 Sep 1993 06:59:57 -0800 (PDT)
Subject: File 5--Number of CuD Articles
I like CuD very much and have contributed to the overloading of your
mail programs by turning many people on to it. I'v even submitted
several news pieces that you later included in CuD. So please
understand my comments in context:I LIKE CuD.
When I first started reading CuD it was basically a 'news magazine' which
included many short articles on a variety of topics, occasional
'theme' issues, and some good editorial content. Lately I've noticed
that it's character is changing. It has gone from a pre-processed
information source to a news clipping service. Every time something of
interest happens it is immediately sent out to CuD (usually the
original document announcing the occurrence is just re-posted). This is
not necessarily bad, I never liked anyone volunteering their opinion
anyway. =) However I think if this is the trend that CuD is going to
follow that you might want to consider a different format for your
articles. Instead of sending them out why not put them on a gopher (or
better yet) WWW server? That way one can not only quickly get to
useful information but that information will stick around after the
article is autodeleted (I read CuD through usenet) a week or so after
it's posted. Using gopher or WWW formats is also much easier to deal
with than ftp.
I hope CuD decides to develop a split personality. I like having a
'human' going through the net and pulling out interesting information
but I also liked the articles, commentary, etc. that used to the
mainstay of CuD. And of course, being a big believer in putting your
money where your mouth is, I would be willing to help set up (i.e.
learn how to) and maintain (i.e. donate time) a gopher or WWW server.
Never the less CuD is doing a great job and is a definite must read
for anyone who wants to understand the legal aspects of the computer
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1993 17:31:01 CDT
From: CuD Moderators
Subject: File 6--CuD Posting Policies and Processes (A Response)
Eric Schnoebelen, Yaron Goland, and Gray Watson provide us with the
opportunity to address several issues with which we constantly
grapple, often without successful resolution. Their concerns raise
issues of the rights, responsibilities, and other problems facing
electronic media. We have tried to frame our answers in three ways.
First, we attempt to address the concerns raised by Eric, Gray, and
Yaron. Second, we attempt to place them in a context that provides
insights into putting out CuD. Finally, we expand our responses to
include similar questions and concerns expressed by readers.
What follows may be excessively self indulgent for some, but we feel
it necessary in part to address some of the concerns raised, but also
to provide a clearer sense of the backstage CuD region.
RESPONSE TO GRAY
Gray observes that we re-published a lengthy news article without
permission and even included the original line indicating that
permission was not obtained. He finds this troubling. So do we.
We assume that readers have obtained permission to reprint articles
UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED. If it's clear that permission has not been
obtained, if the article warrants publishing, we will edit down to
fair-use limitations. Sometimes we judge it necessary to reprint an
entire article because either editing would distort the meaning,
or--when doing a media critique--the entire article is necessary to
avoid risk of seeming to take isolated quotes out of context.
Although "fair-use" remains ambiguously broad, CuD is in that category
of publications in which fair-use is flexible: We are non-profit and
educational. Despite the latitude, we do our best to err on the side
In the case of the article that Gray cites, we simply goofed. The
article was in the "to-edit" pile, and somehow it simply slipped into
the "go" pile when the posts for the issue were assembled. Although
time and other constraints do not excuse us, we hope they at least
explain it, as we indicate below in our response to Yaron. Sometimes
mistakes happen, and while we're pleased that they seem to happen
relatively infrequently, we remain red-faced when they occur. For
this reason, we continually urge readers to do one of three things
when sending reprints: 1) Obtain permission for long articles (fair
use applies for short articles); or 2) Edit the article with a series
of quotes and summaries; or 3) Indicate that permission was *not*
obtained, and we will try to edit. Unfortunately, time is scarce, so
especially long pieces may not be printed. Nonetheless, all articles
are appreciated, because they keep us abreast of the news, and we add
them to our own files.
RESPONSE TO ERIC
Eric raises a few serious issues that, despite passionate debate on
all sides, remains unresolved. He notes that we ran a post from a
semi-private discussion list without first obtaining permission. We
resolved the case to which Eric alludes in private e-mail. The
persons directly affected were reasonable, understanding, and helpful.
We apologized privately, and we apologize again for any inconvenience
we may have caused them. We did not understand the context of the post
and assumed it was a public announcement. This was our
misunderstanding and *not* the fault of the person who sent the
original post to us or anybody else. But, this raises other issues.
1) CuD POLICY ON RE-PRINTING POSTS
When we intend to reprint a piece posted elsewhere, we try to assure
in writing that we have permission. Some frequent contributors provide
blanket permission. Others we write to obtain permission. Sometimes
we receive posts that are for our information and not to be reprinted.
However, we assume that any article that is obviously not personal
mail that does not indicate NOT FOR PUBLICATION is sent for
consideration. Generally, there are few slips, either by CuD or by
contributors. Sometimes there is a gray area. Sometimes what we or a
contributor find acceptable is not deemed so by original authors.
2) MAY PUBLIC POSTS BE REPRINTED WITHOUT PERMISSION?
Eric's concerns raise a fundamental question for electronic
communication. The status of public electronic posts remains unclear.
In our view, a public e-post is fair game in the same sense as a
public speech or other public behavior. We often receive relevant
informational posts cross-posted on Usenet newsgroups. In these cases,
we assume that wide distribution was intended by the original poster
and that reprint permission is assumed. If we receive articles that
include one or more posts from elsewhere, we assume that publication
of the enclosed comments are acceptable. It is simply impossible to
track down every poster or check every fact in articles. Nor do we
avoid publishing a piece that we judge to be proper simply because
somebody may criticize us for running it. But, we do our best to
follow Internet norms, and those norms generally hold that permissions
to reprint ought be obtained when possible.
There is another issue, however, one relevant especially for
researchers. Should PUBLIC posting areas be a research ground for
graduate students and others? Is it proper to use public posts in
research? Is it proper to do statistical analyses of public posts
without obtaining permission from those on the list? In our own view,
the nature of most research and the pre/proscriptions of professional
codes of ethics cover this: Research in public places is fully
permissible without notifying those being observed. Therefore,
counting flames on alt.feminism, or using snippets from a given
newsgroup to display social processes of, for example,
computer-mediated communication, is neither illegal nor unethical if
done in accordance with existing professional standards of conduct.
We take Eric's concerns sufficiently seriously that we intend to
address them soon in a future conference paper. We do not see any
easy answers, and certainly none likely to generate consensus. But, a
healthy debate helps clarify what's at stake and hopefully minimizes
abuse and increases responsibility, and Eric's comments are helpful
RESPONSE TO YARON
Yaron Goland is probably correct in noting the changes in CuD over
the years. We think there are several reasons for this:
1) The "cyberworld" has changed from our early days, and we reflect
2) the basic issues that we addressed (eg, Sundevil, Bill Cook, etc)
have receded into the background, and the conflicts have generally
taken more genteel forms low on drama but high on import, such as
legislative lobbying for California's electronic access bill,
lobbying efforts opposing encryption control, or the backstage efforts
of groups such as CPSR or EFF that quietly file FOIA requests and
adapt slow-moving legal tactics.
3) Our readership has grown dramatically---our first issue had less
than 200 readers in March, 1990--all on a mailing list. Today, we
have over 80,000 from usenet, the mailing list, BBSes, public access
systems, ftp/etc, and the diversity means we try to match our articles
to the broader-based interests. We are not sure that this is good,
but on the other hand, we decided to let things just take their
4) The readers themselves change---and their interests follow.
5) There are simply more issues and much more information available.
THE GENESIS OF CuD -- Maturity or Senility?
At the heart of Yaron's comment lies a broader issue: What are the
crucial issues affecting cyberspace and what is the best way to
disseminate information and encourage discussion amongst those who do
not have easy access to a forum to express their views? What is the
role of Cu Digest, RISKS, TELECOM Digest, and others in providing such
a forum? What obligations do such digests have to readers, and how can
editors or moderators assure that they reflect crucial issues and
diverse points of view without becoming a self-indulgent platform for
CuD has changed: Some have complimented (or criticized) us for
"mellowing out" and refining (or dulling) the gadfly edge. The
observation does have some merit. CuD originated as a temporary
mailing list to handle posts related to the Phrack and Len Rose cases
and to generate related discussion that TELECOM Digest could not
publish. As a consequence, the CuD editors had no long-range goals
or unifying vision. The early style of posters and editors reflected
passion and urgency--not always wisely expressed in the immediacy and
heat of the moment--to rectify perceived injustice. We saw little
reason at the time for caution, because we did not believe we would be
pursuing the issues for very long. Then came Sun Devil and a new
round of discussions. Chip Rosenthal's initiative in making CuD a
Usenet group expanded the readership, Bob Krause set up a mail
archive, Brendan Kehoe set up the ftp archives, and we became
"establishment." With the expanded sites and growing readership, we
were no longer speaking to a small audience, but to a group with
dramatic diversity in perspectives, interests, and background. The
posters comments and articles reflected this diversity, and we try to
reflect it in the posts we publish.
Both CuD editors are academics at heart, so the tenor of the posts
perhaps over-represents conferences, reviews, research, and other
material of fairly specialized interest. On the other hand, the
overwhelming bulk of CuDs Net readers come from academia as scholars,
programmers, or students, or from an areas sharing similar interests
(media personnel, attorneys). BBS readers, by contrast, are more
varied, and from them we often receive suggestions to expand the range
of articles even further to cover the BBS world more thoroughly.
Unfortunately, putting out CuD is time consuming. We say this without
complaint, and note it as a simple fact of life that significantly
shapes what we do. Managing the mailing list, writing our own
comments, formatting posts, responding to considerable mail, digging
up any information for news notes that we ourselves write, trying to
edit news stories to fit within "fair use" restrictions, and other
small tasks take, in the aggregate, on average of 25-30 hours a week.
Both editors have "real jobs" unrelated to CuD that require at least
50 hours a week. With no resources, no staff, and no other incentive
than a naive passion for information, we often cannot put the effort
into obtaining, writing, or editing news that we would like.
Sometimes we goof, as Gray and Eric noted above. On the other hand,
the initiative of readers in sending us information, of posters who
provide not-for-publication thought-provoking comments, and the
networking aspect of putting out a 'Zine is rewarding because of the
people we meet face-to-face and electronically and the intellectual
rewards that accrue.
Our intent here is not simply self-indulgence. Rather, by laying out
the genesis and structure of what happens behind the scenes, we hope
that readers will have a better understanding of the editorial
processes and, if they have suggestions for changes in direction or
content, make them within the context of these processes.
How are CuDs Put Out?
We're periodically asked how we put out an issue. It's rather simple:
1) posts arrive in our mailbox or by disk and we sort through them. We
do not run "Usenet" type posts in which a poster simply responds with
a few lines, but we do try to present any reasonable post that raises
issues or presents new information. We do not censor content, and we
occasionally ask posters to revise to clarify or elaborate on their
points. We're occasionally asked why we run a particular piece,
because it may seem offensive, unrelated to readers' interests, or
otherwise inappropriate. The answer is simple: We try to give
everybody a chance to speak, and diversity of ideas and perspectives
beats the opposite. 2) We select about 800 lines (40 K), give or take
10 percent. As a consequence, some posts might be delayed because of
space constraints and "fit." 3) We usually format to 70 characters per
line and edit the subject headers to try about 50 characters, and
remove sigs and control characters. 4) We assemble the articles, run a
spell check, and then add the "Administrivia" and index. 5) We sent
out three separate files: One to Usenet, one to the Central Michigan
U. listserv, and one to the bad addresses that the listserv can't
read. 6) We wait for the bounces, usually about 15 each issue, of
which about half are "anomalies" (full mailboxes, down systems) and
the rest are "user not known" or "unknown domain." After three
consecutive bounces, a user is notified of deletion from the mailing
list with an explanation and instructions for resubbing (assuming the
notification does not bounce, which they usually do).
We've tried the various suggestions and mini-programs that readers
have send over as a way of automating each issue, but the system from
which we work can't accommodate most of them, so we rely on primitive
batch files when possible. Deletions, subscriptions, and other tasks
are done semi-manually.
Gordon lives and works in the Chicago suburbs, and Jim lives about 60
miles west in DeKalb. They try to coordinate as much as possible by
e-mail and telephone. Imperfect, but it works.
So, for those who've asked in the past, now ya probably know more than
you ever wanted.
Readers have suggested a variety of things CuD could do.
In an unpublished section of his post, Yaron urged that we set up a
gopher site. An interesting idea, and we're open to suggestions.
Yaron also suggested recruiting readers to perform certain tasks
on a regular basis. For example, we could add a book review editor,
a media commentator, somebody willing to conduct an interview
with newsworthy cyberfolk once every few months, or other tasks.
The suggestion of periodic special issues by guest editors is also
Other readers have suggested that we focus more on specific issues
(e.g., law, BBSes, research papers, interviews with newsworthy
cyberpersonalities). We like all of these ideas, but they are
time-consuming. We especially like the idea of interviews, but a
one-issue interview would require at least an hour of the interview
itself, about 3 hours for transcribing, and another hour of editing,
plus incidental time of set-up and other tasks. That's a day's work,
and time is scarce. Perhaps readers could conduct interviews on
occasion and send them over.
The suggestion of assembling issues into themes so they could be
discarded more easily if readers weren't interested in the theme is
tempting. For example, conference notices could be placed in one
issue, bibliographies in one issue, news blurbs in a single
issue--we'll consider it.
Expanding CuDs to three issues a week? Probably not wise. Two issues
seems about the limit of tolerance for most readers.
Then there are the mixed/contradictory suggestions: More writing by
CuD editors/Less writing by CuD editors; Some fiction and creative
writing/No fiction or fluff stuff; Don't stray so far from explicitly
cyber-issues/More straying; Don't be so leftist/Move to the right; Set
an example/challenge convention; Be more serious/Lighten up a
bit.......the list goes on. While we may appear unresponsive to
suggestions/criticisms, we actually do take most of them seriously.
All of this is a terribly verbose way of saying that, given the growth
of CuD, it's time to reassess what a CuD is. If you have ideas for
guidance in the coming year(s), let us know.
For those who have read this far and haven't been hit by the MEGO ("my
eyes glazeth over") effect, our intent has been to explain, *not*
justify, how and why errors occur, and to give a sense of what goes on
at this end of the screen. Hopefully, it will reduce some of the
misunderstandings that some media and law enforcement folk have about
CuD. It might also provide a few paragraphs for the occasional student
paper inquiry we receive. Most responses to "whither CuD" are "keep
up what you're doing," but we're open to suggestions and especially
receptive to articles of relevance.
Jim and Gordon
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1993 15:18:56 -0700
From: Brendan Kehoe
Subject: File 7--September 29 BBLISA meeting]
+------ Forwarded Message
Subject--September 29 BBLISA meeting
Date--Fri, 24 Sep 93 16:00:56 EDT
[ apologies if this is a duplicate posting -- vsh ]
September 29 BBLISA meeting
Topic: Computer Crime
Jim Powers of the FBI and a prosecutor from the Attorney General's
office will be the speakers next Wednesday's Back Bay LISA meeting.
They will be addressing what you should be aware of when administering
your site, what we can do to protect ourselves, and what steps you
should take when you suspect your system is being wrongly used.
Date: Wed., Sept. 29, 7:30pm *[note the changed time]*
70 Memorial Drive (entrance at corner of Wadworth and Amherst)
Car: For folks driving, follow Memorial Drive to Wadsworth St. which
will take you to the rear of the building. Entrance and parking are
at the rear.
T: Red Line Kendall Square stop. Head over to Au Bon Pain, take
a right onto Wadsworth St. E51 is at the corner of Wadsworth and
Back Bay LISA (BBLISA) holds monthly meetings, on the last Wednesday
of each month, except November and December. Meetings are usually at
a Boston-Metro location. Meetings feature a speaker, or a panel of
speakers, and time for announcements and group discussion. Topics
include all aspects of system administration (both large and small),
networking, security, privacy, etc.
Membership in the group is FREE. To become a member, join one of the
following mailing lists. You'll receive full details of forthcoming
meetings, locations, precise dates, etc.
BLISA information is distributed by email, only. To join the
announcement mailing list, send email to the list server at
`email@example.com' with a text line of `subscribe'.
There is also a BBLISA discussion list. To join this list, send a
subscribe message to `firstname.lastname@example.org'. All announcement
messages are automatically relayed to this list, so you don't need to
Steve Harris - Eaton Corp. - Beverly, MA - email@example.com
++++++- End of Forwarded Message
NEW HAVEN (AP)--A federal grand jury indicated a Redding (Conn)
man Wednesday, charging him with conspiring with others to import
child pornography into the United States, authorities said.
The four-count indictment charging John Looney, 51, is part of
"Operation Longarm," a U.S. Department of Justice and Customs Service
effort focusing on the use of computers to import pornographic
materials from Denmark. Search warrants have been issued in 15 states.
Date: 24 Sep 1993 11:26:49 -0800
From: "AJ Bate"
Subject: File 8--The State of Security of Cyberspace (SRI Research Summary)
THE STATE OF SECURITY OF CYBERSPACE
A Summary of Recent Research
SRI International (SRI) conducted a worldwide study in 1992 of a
broad range of security issues in "cyberspace." In brief, cyberspace
comprises all public and private communications networks in the United
States and elsewhere, including telephone or public switched telephone
networks (PSTNs), packet data networks (PDNs) of various kinds, pure
computer networks, including the Internet, and wireless communications
systems, such as the cellular telephone system. We did not address
security vulnerabilities associated with classified, secure
communications networks used by and for governments, nor did we
explore toll fraud issues.
The study was conducted as part of our ongoing research into the
vulnerabilities of various software components of cyberspace. Our
approach was to conduct research through field interviews with a broad
range of experts, including people we characterize as "good hackers,"
into security issues and vulnerabilities of cyberspace and the
activities of the international "malicious hacker" community.
While the specific results of the study are proprietary to SRI, this
brief report summarizes our general conclusions for the many
individuals who kindly participated in our field interviews. As we
indicated during the interviews, the original research for this
project was not part of any other kind of investigation, and we have
not revealed the identity of any of our respondents.
The study aimed to understand "malicious hackers"-that is, people
who have and use the technical knowledge, capability, and motivation
to gain unauthorized access, for various reasons, to systems in
cyberspace. It is important to understand that by no means all
hackers are malicious, nor does most hacking involve unauthorized
access to cyberspace systems; indeed, only a small fraction of
computer hacking involves such activities but this fraction gives
hacking an otherwise undeserved bad reputation. While we intended to
focus on technical (software) vulnerabilities, our interviews led us
to look more at the broader motivations for, and different approaches
to, cracking into various networks and networked systems.
Our main conclusion is that social, organizational, and technological
factors still combine in ways that make much of cyberspace relatively
vulnerable to unauthorized access. The degree of vulnerability varies
from one type of communications system to another. In general, the
PSTN is the least vulnerable system, the PDNs are somewhat more
vulnerable than the PSTN, the Internet is relatively insecure, and as
is widely known, the cellular phone system is the most vulnerable of
the four major areas we addressed.
The main vulnerabilities in most communications networks involve
procedural, administrative, and human weaknesses, rather than purely
technical vulnerabilities of network management, control systems,
hardware, and software.
There are technical vulnerabilities-poor system design and specific
security flaws in software-but they are exploitable mainly because of
the above-cited problems.
Highlights of the study's conclusions include:
o Malicious attacks on most networks and networked systems cannot be
completely prevented, now or in the future. More than enough
information is publicly available to hackers and other technically
literate people to preclude attempts at prevention of intrusions.
o It is possible that individuals or groups could bring down
individual systems or related groups of systems, on purpose or by
accident. However, security is generally improving as a result of
dealing with past threats and challenges to system security. For
instance, responses to the most recent serious threat to the Internet,
the so-called Internet Worm in 1989, included improved security at
sites vulnerable to this type of worm.
o We found no evidence that the current generation of U.S. hackers is
attempting to sabotage entire networks. On the contrary, doing so is
inconsistent with the stated ethics and values of the hacker
community, which are to explore cyberspace as a purely intellectual
exercise without malicious intent or behavior. Some individuals who
operate outside this informal ethical framework, however, can and do
damage specific systems and occasionally use systems for personal gain
or vindictive activities.
o There is some evidence that the newest generations of hackers may be
motivated more by personal gain than by the traditional motive of
sheer curiosity. This development could mean that networks and
networked systems could become more likely targets for attacks by
hardened criminals or governments' intelligence services or their
contractors (i.e., employing malicious hackers). This threat does not
appear to be significant today but is a possible future scenario.
o The four major areas of vulnerability uncovered in our research have
little or nothing to do with specific software vulnerabilities per se.
They relate more to the ways in which hackers can gain critical
information they need in order to exploit vulnerabilities that exist
because of poor systems administration and maintenance, unpatched
"holes" in networks and systems, and so on.
- The susceptibility of employees of businesses, public organizations,
schools, and other institutions to "social engineering" techniques
- Lax physical and procedural controls
- The widespread availability of nonproprietary and of sensitive and
proprietary information on paper about networks and computer systems
- The existence of "moles," employees of communications and computer
firms and their suppliers who knowingly provide proprietary
information to hackers.
o The vulnerabilities caused by shortcomings in software-based access
controls and in hardware-related issues constitute significantly lower
levels of risk than do the four areas discussed above on more secure
networks such as the PSTN and PDNs. However, on the Internet and
similar systems, software-based access controls (for instance,
password systems) constitute significant problems because of often
poor system maintenance and other procedural flaws.
On the basis of our research, we recommend the following:
1. Protection of organizational information and communications assets
should be improved. Issues here range from those involving overall
security systems to training employees in, and informing customers of
the importance of, maintenance of security on individual systems,
handling and disposition of sensitive printed information, and dealing
with social engineering.
2. Techniques used to protect physical assets should be improved.
For example, doors and gates should be locked properly and sensitive
documents and equipment guarded appropriately.
3. Organizations and their employees should be made aware of the
existence of moles and their role in facilitating and enabling hacker
intrusions, and care should be taken in hiring and motivating
employees with the mole problem in mind.
4. Software- and hardware-based vulnerabilities should also be
addressed as a matter of course in systems design, installation, and
5. Organizations concerned with information and communications
security should proactively promote educational programs for students
and parents about appropriate computer and communications use,
personal integrity and ethics, and legitimate career opportunities in
the information industry; and they should reward exemplary skills,
proficiency, and achievements in programming and ethical hacking.
6. Laws against malicious hacking should be fairly and justly
enforced. SRI's believes that the results of this study will provide
useful information to both the operators and users of cyberspace,
including the hacker community. We plan to continue our research in
this area during 1993 within the same framework and conditions (i.e.,
anonymity of all individuals and organizations) as those that governed
the 1992 research. We invite hackers and others who are interested in
participating in this work through face-to-face, telephone, or e-mail
interviews to contact the following member of the SRI project team:
A. J. Bate SRI International
Phone:415 859 2206
Fax:415 859 3154
End of Computer Underground Digest #5.75